Le Tour: The world’s most torturous race

(AP Photo/Bas Czerwinski)

If you’ve ever climbed on top of a bike, pedaled, and traversed the road near JY Square then climbed up to Marco Polo Hotel, then ascended some more to Willy’s, to Bu-ak, then to the very top of Tops, then you know that climbing mountains is agonizing. Pedaling on flat asphalt is leisurely, but steering those two thin wheels upwards to the sky is, very often, tormenting.

Take the Tour de France. Last Sunday at 10:30 p.m., just minutes before shutting off the bedroom lights, I switched on the TV set and clicked to the Balls Skycable channel 33.

(Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)

Picturesque mountain ranges of France were on exhibit. Green, lush hills sprinkled the landscape. Gray, paved roads shined. Blue, towering skies glowed. Red-bricked homes glistened. And, weaving a spiral formation through turns that looked like corkscrews and roadways that appeared like pasta coils, cyclists paraded in pink, white, orange, purple, and….. Yellow.

The Tour de France. Isn’t yellow the most sought-after color among the rainbow of colors in Le Tour? Absolutely. Because the yellow jersey is worn by only one man—the leader of the band; the fastest among the 190 or so cyclists who pedal in this race running from July 5 to 27.

(Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images)

(AP Photo/Bas Czerwinski)

Is “Le Tour,” founded in 1903, the most physically-demanding of all sports? To me, it’s like showing you a photo of David Diaz at the end of that 9th round stoppage, all bloodied and bruised and brain-weary, then asking you, “Is boxing painful?”

Of course. Of course the Tour de France is the most harrowing and grueling of all sports courses. Including boxing.

Think about it. In Le Tour, you scurry and dash through 10 flat stages. You point to the clouds on four medium mountain stages and escalate on five unbearable, extreme mountain tops. There are 82 kms. of individual time trials when, facing wind, dust, rain or sun, you’re alone. In total, you pedal not 11 or 101 or 1,010 kms.—but three thousand five hundred fifty nine kilometers. Every single day. For 23 days. With only two rest days in between.

Manny Pacquiao? Boxing? Grueling?

Don’t tell that to Lance Armstrong.

Without question the greatest ever man to climb a bike, LA has won seven Tours de France. Year after year, from 1999 to 2005, at the end of the world’s biggest cycling party, he finished in Paris and climbed the podium wearing one bright sunflower color.

Back to my 25 minutes of watching the live coverage of the 95th Tour de France the other night, I saw the last part of Stage 9—the first mountain stage of the race—and witnessed a bullet who bolted from the Peloton (main pack), scooted forward, whisked past every cyclist to zoom first in the finish line of the 195.5 km. stage (that’s the distance of Cebu to Bogo and back).

Ricardo Ricco (below photo) is his name and what an engine he possesses inside that body. Several kilometers from the top of the climb, he surged forward in a surprise attack and never relinquished the lead.

(Pascal Pavani/AFP/Getty Images)

For that’s the other mystique of the TdF: It’s not only painful and far and physically-sapping of all energy, it’s perilous. I should know the dangers of biking. Four years ago on a climb on the hills of Guba at the back of Talamban, I was tossed off my bike head first and slammed my face on the dirt road. Hospitalized for one night and stitched by the masterful hands of Dr. Susan Verallo, I smiled the next day. And my accident happened while pedaling slow.

On Le Tour? I watched Ricco the Italian on the downhill sprint speeding so fast (did I hear the announcers say 80 kph?) that I grimaced in fear clutching the pillow while watching TV.

These 190 or so cyclists face hazards—head on, face to face—everyday. Of every hour. Of every minute. Of every single second.

(AP Photo/Laurent Rebours)

Categorized as Cycling
John Pages

By John Pages

I've been a sports columnist since 1994. First, in The Freeman newspaper under "Tennis Is My Game." Then, starting in 2003, with Sun.Star Cebu under the name "Match Point." Happy reading!

1 comment

  1. Yap, Le Tour is indeed the most physically
    challenging sporting event of them all. Hear it from the guys who got Balls, its like climbing mt. everest three times on bike. For those who have tried mt. apo, they could certainly feel the pain. (I did rode the apo countless of times, but not the peak, near the top though, and on bike).
    I was amaze with Ricco’s performance, that I would watch his every move becoming an instant fun. Unfortunately, I was dismayed the following day when he was accosted by policemen, because with his blood sample was found traces of EPO- the oxygen enhancing substance in the blood. Its a banned substance. No wonder he rode aLA superman.

    I’m not accusing LA of doping, but I don’t think he is the greatest of them all. Even if Greg Lemond would doubt his innocence, I think (and I know most in the know would agree) the greatest cyclist of all time is the great belgian Eddy Merckx. He is the Tiger Woods of cycling. He won almost all the tours in astonishing fashion. He was so dominant, that it is not far fetch if he was genetically endowed with EPO in his blood. Lance won Le Tour de France year after year, for seven years, and that is a great achievement. Merckx on the other hand won only five tours, but he also competed in other tour within the year. He is one of a kind biker who would compete and won the Giro, tour of Flanders, tour d france in the same year.

    Anyway, all cyclist are exceptional athletes, minus the cheats. And considering the distance, whew! I bike therefore I whew!

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